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Inside Michael Cohen’s surreal day in court

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Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen.
AP Photo/Mary
Altaffer


  • President Donald Trump’s name wasn’t said a single time
    during a roughly 45-minute court proceeding during which his
    former longtime lawyer entered eight guilty pleas to federal
    charges.
  • But Trump took center stage at the hearing.
  • Here’s what went down inside the courtroom.

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s name wasn’t said a single
time during a roughly 45-minute court proceeding where his former
longtime lawyer entered eight guilty pleas to federal charges
that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.

It didn’t matter.

As Michael Cohen explained to US District Judge William H. Pauley
why he was pleading guilty to all of the charges — including
charges that he made illegal campaign and corporate contributions
to an unnamed candidate in 2016 — the president’s name was
impossible to avoid.

Cohen, the man who worked alongside the president for more than a
decade, admitted in federal court, as part of a plea deal he
struck with the government, that Trump directed him to knowingly
break the law to boost his own candidacy.

As Cohen explained that he committed the campaign-finance
violations “at the direction of the candidate” and with the
“purpose of influencing the election,” there were audible gasps
in the lower Manhattan courtroom packed with reporters.

Aside from explaining why he was pleading guilty to the eight
charges he faced, which also included five counts of tax evasion
and one count of making false statements to a bank, Cohen said
almost nothing in the hearing. Cohen admitted he had one stiff
drink on Monday night ahead of the proceeding — a Glenlivet,
12-year-old single malt scotch on the rocks.

He said such a drink was not customary for him. Then again,
little would be customary for him about the 24 hours that
followed.

Cohen implicates Trump

Cohen first said that in the summer of 2016, at “a candidate’s”
direction, he moved to keep an individual from publicly
disclosing damaging information that would hurt that candidate’s
campaign. That person was former Playboy model Karen McDougal,
who says she had an affair with Trump years ago.

Her story was purchased by American Media Inc., whose head, David
Pecker, is a longtime friend of Trump. The National Enquirer,
owned by AMI, purchased the rights to McDougal’s story for
$150,000 in August 2016 but never published it. That practice is
known as “catch and kill.”

In court, Cohen said “we accomplished” the goal regarding
preventing that information from coming out.

“I participated in this conduct with the principal purpose of
influencing” the election, he added.


Donald Trump
Donald Trump.
Rick
Loomis/Getty Images


Cohen said the same candidate later “directed” him to make a
second payment to keep another individual from disclosing
damaging information about him. That was a reference to porn star
Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Just days before the 2016 presidential election, Cohen
facilitated a $130,000 payment to Daniels to keep her quiet about
her allegation of having a 2006 affair with Trump — an allegation
Trump has denied. The FBI was looking for documents related to
that payment and similar arrangements with other women when it
raided Cohen’s home, office, and hotel in April at the onset of
the probe.

Cohen initially said this payment was not for the purpose of
influencing an election but to prevent Trump’s family from
learning of the embarrassing information. Trump’s attorney, Rudy
Giuliani, made the same claim.

“I knew what I was doing was wrong and illegal,” Cohen said in
court Tuesday.

The federal prosecutors Cohen struck a deal with said they had
evidence proving Cohen’s guilt in the matter, stemming from
records obtained from him that included audio tapes, texts, phone
records, emails, witnesses with knowledge of the transactions,
and records from The National Enquirer.

Pauley then read Cohen each count one by one, asking him to enter
a plea of guilty or not guilty.

“Guilty,” Cohen repeated eight times. Pauley announced a
sentencing hearing for Cohen on December 12. Bail was set at
$500,000. As Cohen left the courthouse, he was greeted to chants
of “lock him up” from onlookers, a reference to a popular chant
Trump’s supporters directed at former Democratic nominee Hillary
Clinton.

Soon after, Giuliani offered up a response. He called Cohen a
liar.

“There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president
in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen,” Giuliani said.
“It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions
reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant
period of time.”

Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s attorneys, questioned how his
client’s admission of guilt didn’t also implicate the president.

“Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump
directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women
for the principal purpose of influencing an election,” Davis
said. “If those payments were
a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for
Donald Trump?”

Ahead of a rally in West Virginia, Trump was asked about the
Cohen news, along with the news that Paul Manafort, his former
campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight counts.

He said nothing about Cohen.

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